Lupin: Part One Review
There are somewhat unmistakable vibes to Lupin that puts one in mind of the BBC's Sherlock; here is a classic literary character ripe with possibilities for mystery and suspense pushed forward to the present day. That's all on the surface, though. Lupin has cleverer intentions than just modernising one of France's most popular fictional characters.
When Bong Joon-ho made one of his many acceptance speeches for Parasite around this time last year, he remarked that 'if audiences got over the one-inch barrier of subtitles they would be introduced to so many wonderful films'. The same could also be said for television and one sincerely hopes that Lupin's recent success in cracking Netflix's top ten in the US and the UK means that there is a similar breaking of that barrier for television shows that audiences might otherwise be put off watching due to it having subtitles.
How can this not appeal to a mass audience? It's slick, well-produced, massively engaging and at five episodes perfect for binging, and binge you shall because here is a series that combines comedy, drama, thriller and action to increasingly entertaining effect, with a propulsive serialised narrative, a near swashbuckling sense of good against bad and brilliant use of its Paris setting.
There is an unabashed blockbuster movie feel to proceedings, not least in its first episode which goes for broke with a slickly well-produced heist set within the Louvre. Being a series about an accomplished thief, Lupin revels in the clichés of showing a heist in play, utilising flashbacks and flashforwards to build tension and laying down a lot of groundwork to engage the audience into showing its many heists at work, not least the doozy of an opening episode that could function as a movie in its own right but which sets up the increasingly suspenseful plot for the next batch of episodes.
It would have been so easy for the series to just modernise the text and be done with it, but instead opts for something closer to meta-fiction. Lead character Assane Diop has spent his life being influenced by the character so much that he has pretty much turned himself into a real-life version of the character. It's a clever conceit, allowing the series to both have modern-day variations of the books on the screen while also commenting on the influence the books are having on the present day as it goes along.
As Assane, the series has the charismatic and incredibly charming Omar Sy in the lead. Swoonsome and funny, but also dramatic and capable of switching from comedic and classy to more dramatic moments with aplomb and ease, he owns every inch of the action anytime he is on screen and carries the series with an effort that looks easy but which carries a lot more complexities than might at first appear.
The same goes for the tone of the writing. There is a brilliant swinging pendulum to the storytelling, that it can go from slick and escapist such as the first episode's Louvre heist, complete with insanely fun car stunt, to the more dramatic intensity of the last two episodes which not only ratchets up the tension but also the stakes as George Kay and François Uzan's writing shows itself to be unafraid to hurt characters that we come to care about. There is one in particular, in the fourth episode, that is a heartbreaker and a warning to the characters and the audience that the series' central antagonist, Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre) is a genuinely nasty piece of work.
There is a touch of social-politics to the storytelling, using the series' considerable fun and charm to comment on some deeply relevant themes. Assane's's father was an immigrant from Senegal and Hubert is a villain who is considerably wealthy and with a lot of political and financial influence. He not only framed Assane's father for theft, but might also have been responsible for having him killed in prison. It's a welcome social message that some might scoff at as being too much reality being injected into an otherwise frivolous thriller. But it's done with subtle clarity, bubbling away on the surface, all the while still managing to still have escapist fun with its plethora of clever heists, subterfuge and wickedly entertaining set-pieces, while still allowing the story to have considerable weight.
At only five episodes - and with the finale ending on a particularly suspenseful cliff-hanger - it comes as a blessed relief that the second batch of episodes is announced as being on the way as soon as the end credits to the fifth episode begin. This is enjoyably fun escapist fare of the highest order, a brilliantly well-produced cinematic comedy thriller, that has genuine dramatic heft to go with the thrills, the set-pieces and the slick production values.
That it can break your heart a little for the death of a character who only appears for one episode and yet carry you along with the slick swagger as its lead character exits the Louvre in a nice suit and brilliant soundtrack with that magnificent Parisian background as the setting, says a lot about how wonderful it all is. 2021 may not even be a month old yet, but this might already be a contender for one of the best shows of the year so far.